Although we tend to think we are connected by satellites, in fact 99% of all data that zips back and forth across oceans and around the world travels by submarine fiberoptic cable. This map shows this submarine cable network. (Cables shown in light gray have been contracted for but are not yet operational.)
The National Geographic Society's Explorer Classroom allows students to learn directly from NGS explorers via free live webcasts. Upcoming programs feature photographers, biologists, filmmakers, journalists, and digital storytellers sharing their experiences around the world, from Arctic communities to Asian fishing villages to shark breeding grounds and beyond. To register or view archived webcasts, see www.nationalgeographic.org/education/student-experiences/explorer-classroom/sessions/#inthefield
Even before the coronavirus that began in central China (COVID-19) began to spread elsewhere, world financial markets started to react. This GIF helps explain why as viewers watch the rise of China as a global trading partner: merchantmachine.co.uk/china-vs-us/
Advances in surveillance technology, big data manipulation, facial recognition technology, and artificial intelligence are converging to make it easier and cheaper than ever before to create and sustain authoritarian regimes. In many cases, the technology can be bought off the rack from pioneering countries like China. This article from Foreign Affairs looks at the emergence of "digital dictators." www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2020-02-06/digital-dictators
This recent article from The New York Times science section highlights pivotal shifts taking place in the planet's lakes and rivers, including some of its most productive inland fisheries, like the Mekong, the Amazon, and Tonle Sap. Freshwater megafauna have declined by 88% in recent years, with numbers reaching 99% in southern China and south and southeast Asia. "Some of the most astonishing creatures on Earth hide deep in rivers and lakes: giant catfish weighing over 600 pounds, stingrays the length of Volkswagen Beetles, six-foot-long trout that can swallow a mouse whole. There are about 200 species of so-called freshwater megafauna, but compared to their terrestrial and marine counterparts, they are poorly studied by scientists and little known to the public. And they are quietly disappearing." The photos that accompany this article are themselves are worth a look for anyone interested in seeing something of this largely out-of-view world. www.nytimes.com/2020/01/21/science/freshwater-megafauna-endangered.html
This 1-minute video maps one minute's worth of U.S. credit/debit card payments via Square on a random day earlier this month. It serves as an interesting snapshot of U.S. economic activity. merchantmachine.co.uk/us-payment-map/
A viral tweet recently brought to the fore one of the key problems at the nexus of epistemology and philosophy of mind: how do we know what goes on in other people's heads? The tweet began, "Fun fact: some people have an internal narrative and some people don't" and noted "some people's thoughts are like sentences they 'hear', and some people just have abstract non-verbal thoughts, and have to consciously verbalize them." The neuroscience is interesting, but the philosophical aspect of the observation is emphasized by the tweet's conclusion: "And most people aren't aware of the other type of person." Because at the end of the day, we really have no idea what it is like to "think like" someone else. It remains to be seen if science will someday unlock this unknowable. www.iflscience.com/brain/people-are-weirded-out-to-discover-that-some-people-dont-have-an-internal-monologue
Despite containment measures, the coronavirus that began in and around the central Chinese city of Wuhan has spread well beyond China, with several cases popping up this week in the Iranian pilgrimmage city of Qom, for example. Public health experts are concerned the coronavirus may find a foothold in Africa next. This interactive website provides real-time information on the virus's geographic impact: coronavirus.app/
Looking for a new board game? Or have a budding marine biologist? This article from Science News reviews the new game Oceans, developed in collaboration with a marine biologist. "Oceans excels at evoking a sense of wonder. The striking watercolor art by illustrator Catherine Hamilton, on the game board and many of the trait cards, invites players into a vibrant ecosystem. The game rewards both careful planning and quick thinking, which prevents the frustrating feeling of dreading a certain loss after an early mistake (a common occurrence in Oceans’ predecessor, Evolution). And there’s a welcome dash of humor.... Those familiar with Evolution will feel right at home in Oceans’ less punishing but equally nuanced gameplay. And for those who are new to strategy games, Oceans is a good introduction: It’s intuitive enough to pick up the basics after a few turns, but nuanced enough to be enjoyable after dozens of games." The game goes on sale this spring. www.sciencenews.org/article/oceans-board-game-north-star-games
As students in my geography classes learn, maps change not only across time but also across place: a map produced in one country might not show political borders in the same way a map produced in another country with different ideas about those borders does. Perhaps it should come as no surprise then, that Google Maps is showing different maps to different users, based on the location of the user. This article includes images of Google's differing maps of Kashmir, Western Sahara, and Ukraine, for example. www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/02/14/google-maps-political-borders/
From an article in Army Times: "Ear, eye, brain and muscular enhancement is “technically feasible by 2050 or earlier,” according to a study released this month by the U.S. Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command. ... The report — entitled “Cyborg Soldier 2050: Human/Machine Fusion and the Implications for the Future of the DOD” — is the result of a year-long assessment. It was written by a study group from the DoD Biotechnologies for Health and Human Performance Council, which is tasked to look at the ripple effects of military biotechnology. The team identified four capabilities as technically feasible by 2050:
St. Augustine, Florida, is the oldest permanent settlement in the United States. But until recently it was also the home of a 300-year-old mystery, which researchers recently solved with a combination of biogeography and materials science. "In 1702, when the Spanish still ruled Florida, an English fleet from colonial Carolina approached Castillo de San Marcos, a Spanish stronghold on the Atlantic shore. The fort guarded the Spanish empire’s trade routes as well as the surrounding city of St. Augustine, and the English wanted to run this politically and economically important outpost for themselves. Led by Carolina’s governor James Moore, the English boats dropped their anchors and laid siege. But even after nearly two months of being shelled with cannonballs and gunfire, the fort’s walls wouldn’t give. In fact, they appeared to be “swallowing” the British cannonballs, which then became embedded within the stone. Precisely how the walls did this remained a mystery for the next three centuries." www.atlasobscura.com/articles/coquina-fort-in-florida
Presidents' Day celebrates the February birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, which reminds us (in case we somehow forgot) that this is a presidential election year. The biggest prize of the primary season is Super Tuesday: on March 3, all of the states shown in blue on this map will be having their primaries. fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/SUPER-TUESDAY-POLLS-fixed-4x3.png
Ohio State University is offering a week-long philosophy camp for high school students (June 8-12 or July 15-19). The theme of this year's camp is Freedom & Flourishing: "Do we have free will? Is happiness more important than freedom? Can too much freedom be bad for you? What makes for a meaningful or good life? What can we learn about freedom and the good life from diverse philosophical traditions? Is it ever OK to restrict someone's freedom?" Unfortunately for those not near Columbus, this is a day camp although it is possible the philosophy department might have ideas for student housing. For more information, see https://philosophy.osu.edu/pact
Spoken Arabic varies widely across the Arabic-speaking world, with some dialects all but unintelligible to each other. This Reddit map shows the dominant Arabic dialects across North Africa and the Middle East.
Today is the first day of the 2020 Great Backyard Bird Count! This annual citizen-scientist initiative provides data that helps researchers understand how global bird populations might be changing in terms of numbers and ranges. Participation is free and can take as little as 15 minutes of your time. Don't know anything about birds? There are resources at the Great Backyard Bird Count site to help even novice birders with identification. The Great Backyard Bird Count runs through Monday. (The map shows 2019 participation.) gbbc.birdcount.org/
China builds more skyscrapers (buildings 200 m. or higher) than any other country in the world. In 2019, China completed nearly as many skyscrapers as the next 9 countries combined. This map tags the 10 cities that completed the most skyscrapers in 2019. Shenzen, tagged with a blue marker on this map, came in 1st, with 15 new skyscrapers. Dubai was 2nd with 9, and NYC and Chongqing were tied for 3rd with 8. (Rounding out the top 10: Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai, Bangkok, and, all tied with 3, Busan, Miami, Nanjing, Taiyuan, Toronto, and Xiamen.)
This article from Foreign Affairs uses current examples -- from Mohammed Bin Salman and Vladimir Putin to Ayman al-Zawahiri and Donald Trump -- to argue that individual leaders can and do make a difference in the direction of history.
"History used to be told as the story of great men. Julius Caesar, Frederick the Great, George Washington, Napoléon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong—individual leaders, both famous and infamous, were thought to drive events. But then it became fashionable to tell the same stories in terms of broader structural forces: raw calculations of national power, economic interdependence, or ideological waves. Leaders came to be seen as just vehicles for other, more important factors, their personalities and predilections essentially irrelevant. What mattered was not great men or women but great forces. In his 1959 classic, Man, the State, and War, the scholar Kenneth Waltz made the case for this new approach. He argued that focusing on individual leaders or human nature more broadly offered little purchase when it came to understanding global politics. ... In the midst of the Cold War, Waltz was contending that it mattered little whether Dwight Eisenhower or Adlai Stevenson occupied the White House, or Joseph Stalin or Nikita Khrushchev the Kremlin. The United States and the Soviet Union would pursue the same interests, seek the same allies, and otherwise be forced by the pressure of Cold War competition to act in a certain way.
"Academics embraced the “structuralist” Zeitgeist, and in subsequent decades, ... they continued to downplay leaders. Today, at a time when vast impersonal forces appear to define our world, that bias against the individual might seem justified. Economics, technology, and politics are all changing in ways that seemed unimaginable only decades ago. Developments in communications, transportation, climate, education, cultural values, and health have fundamentally altered relationships among people within communities and across the globe. The information revolution has given rise to the super-empowered individual and the superempowered state and pitted them against each other. Meanwhile, power is being redistributed across the globe, with the unipolar era of American primacy that followed the Cold War giving way to an unpredictable multipolarity. ... Even today, individual leaders can ride, guide, or resist the broader forces of international politics. And so there are still some men and women who are charting their nations’ paths—some beneficial, some disastrous, but all inconceivable without those leaders’ individual characters."
A study of biogeography shows that life exists in a "just right" mix of physical geographic variables -- temperature, precipitation, sunlight, altitude... -- that varies from species to species. For this reason, some astrobiologists are focusing their attention on "eyeball" planets, those that have a transition zone between the too-hot day side and the too-cold night side, a transition zone that might include a "just right" spot for extraterrestrial life: nautil.us/blog/-forget-earth_likewell-first-find-aliens-on-eyeball-planets
In digging through loads of data from various sources, the website Thrillist has created this map highlighting one thing each state is "best" at. tinyurl.com/wwn9av5
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with knowledge, including the difference between knowledge and justified belief. As students in my "Philosophically Speaking" class discover, part of the problem is one of language: we use the same word, "know," when we say, "I know today is Sunday" and "I know there is milk in the refrigerator." After all, unless you are actually looking at the milk in the refrigerator, there is a non-zero chance that there is *not* milk in the refrigerator, that without you being aware of it someone left the milk sitting on the kitchen counter or drank it all or let a neighbor borrow it or poured it down the drain or myriad other possibilities.
It turns out that the Matses people in Peru embed epistemology in their language. "In Nuevo San Juan, Peru, the Matses people speak with what seems to be great care, making sure that every single piece of information they communicate is true as far as they know at the time of speaking. Each uttered sentence follows a different verb form depending on how you know the information you are imparting, and when you last knew it to be true. For example, if you are asked, 'How many apples do you have?' then a Matses speaker might answer, 'I had four apples last time I checked my fruit basket.' Regardless of how sure the speaker is that they still have four apples, if they can’t see them, then they have no evidence what they are saying is true—for all they know, a thief could have stolen three of the apples, and the information would be incorrect. The language has a huge array of specific terms for information such as facts that have been inferred in the recent and distant past, conjectures about different points in the past, and information that is being recounted as a memory. Linguist David Fleck, at Rice University, wrote his doctoral thesis on the grammar of Matses. He says that what distinguishes Matses from other languages that require speakers to give evidence for what they are saying is that Matses has one set of verb endings for the source of the knowledge and another, separate way of conveying how true, or valid the information is, and how certain they are about it. Interestingly, there is no way of denoting that a piece of information is hearsay, myth, or history. Instead, speakers impart this kind of information as a quote, or else as being information that was inferred within the recent past."
Uttar Pradesh is the most populous state in what will soon be the world's most populous country, India. But what does that really mean? This Reddit map puts this in context, comparing the population of Uttar Pradesh (shown in orange) to the rest of the world: www.reddit.com/r/MapPorn/comments/dwciwk/countries_with_a_smaller_population_than_uttar/
An understanding of statistics, including statistical uses and misuses, is an important part of being an informed citizen. The American Statistical Association is sponsoring a contest for middle and high school students to design and execute a statistical project of their choice. For all the details, see www.amstat.org/asa/education/ASA-Statistics-Project-Competition-for-Grades-7-12.aspx
The Trump Administration recently suspended visas for citizens from six additional countries: Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania. All of the countries highlighted on this map are now subject to travel "bans" of one kind or another. The countries in green are predominantly Muslim; the countries in yellow are not. (Nigeria has a Muslim majority with a large Christian minority; Tanzania has a Christian majority with a large Muslim minority.)
Desert locusts are endemic to Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia, but after years of drought followed by heavy rains and warmer temperatures in 2019, East Africa is now contending with its worst locust infestation in decades. Billions of the insects, some in swarms "so thick [that people] can barely see through them," are chewing their way through every bit of vegetation in their paths. If they are not checked by aerial spraying before the spring planting season begins in March, they will devastate young crops and could touch off massive food security issues across East Africa later this year. According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which is trying to organize assistance to combat the locusts, Ethiopia and Somalia haven't seen an invasion of this size in 25 years and for other countries in the region it's been longer still: at least 50 years for Uganda and 70 years for Kenya. (The median age in the region is about 19.) www.dw.com/en/locust-plague-east-africa-destructive-food/a-52165354
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